A new study predicts an increase in hurricanes that could cause catastrophic damage in the northeastern U.S.



The most destructive and dangerous types of hurricanes that can cause extreme high tides or heavy rain are the ones that affect coastal communities. According to a new study, such hurricanes will be more frequent by the end century.

This research is important for coastal residents from Texas to New England. All of them will be at risk from hurricane-driven flooding as the Earth heats.

Multiple hurricanes have recently caused compound flooding, which is a combination of rain and storm surge. This includes Hurricane Harvey in Texas, and Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas. Both storms left behind record-breaking damage and killed dozens.

Scientists from Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology wanted a better understanding of how such storms might develop in the future. To find out how often hurricanes can cause extreme storm surge or extreme rain, they looked backward. These storms are rare in the past. It was unlikely that anyone would ever experience such a storm along the East Coast or the Gulf Coast. But, when scientists looked to the future and considered climate change, the results were quite different. They found that hurricanes that cause flooding in coastal areas are likely to become more common by the end of this century. People living along the East Coast and Gulf Coasts will likely be affected by such storms in the future.

Northeast saw the greatest increase in hurricane risk. The authors have estimated a more than 100-fold increase in hurricanes bringing both heavy rains and very high tides in New England and Mid-Atlantic. A storm that once had a 0.1% chance of occurring in any given year now has a 10% chance.

This is a huge deal for coastal communities, according to Ning Lin, an engineer at Princeton who was one of the researchers of the study published in Nature Climate Change.

Lin says, “In this study we emphasize that rain is going to be an important player in the future flooding risk.”

Lin says that coastal areas are used to flooding from storm surges during hurricanes. However, when heavy rain is added to the mix it can lead to dangerous flooding that covers a larger area.

One example is Hurricane Florence, which caused flooding in North Carolina due to storm surge and rain-swollen river.

Lin says, “In the future climate these will become frequent events which we definitely need to prepare for.”

To prepare for more severe hurricanes, you can upgrade your infrastructure by raising roads, diverting water away form power plants, and reorganizing wastewater treatment plants.

Chad Berginnis is the executive director of Association of State Floodplain Managers. “A study such as this reminds us that we cannot do things the old way.” For example, infrastructure cannot be replaced in-kind. The same size, same place, same way. It is important to build resilience into these decisions.

Berginnis claims that coastal planning officials are already responding to climate change by looking longer-term. He says that in the past it was common practice to plan for 20 years into the future. However, climate change is a constant threat for the future. Local governments need to think beyond the next 20 years.

Berginnis states that flood resilience in coastal zones requires a 50-100 year outlook.